On “wishing” students “good luck” on their exams and instead encouraging to empower themselves

Since I have worked (particularly with undergraduates) these last few years as a beginning research professor, I have caught myself automatically wishing them “good luck” when they tell me they have an exam/final/big project due. Maybe it’s pedantic, but I don’t want them to feel like their success is an issue of luck (a.k.a. random chance, circumstances out of their control, etc.), no matter how much of that success may actually be due to whether their class leader knows how to design an assessment that actually assesses anything resembling a student’s actual facility with the topic.

So I’ve been wracking my brain off and on for an acceptable alternative. “Work hard” or even “work smart” seems stilted and too far the other way – even though that is what they can control. Plus, work at what? Cramming last minute? So today I searched the internet for alternatives to good luck. For a good couple of laughs/cringes at “discussion” on the internet, check out this xkcd forum and this ask reddit.

Alternatives such as “I know you’ll do well” seem overly confident in my foresight and may backfire if (ok, this is overestimating my influence a teensy bit) the student decides not to work as diligently after my pronouncement.

I don’t have any definitive answers yet, but “I wish you well” seems closest to more acceptable. Maybe it strikes a balance between those things in and out of our control. And it’s not too long and complicated but hopefully doesn’t convey any unintentional context either way.


Posted: April 21, 2017

Tags: Katie Stofer

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